Archive for July, 2011

Understanding & Influencing Choices

July 18, 2011

The Social Animal, a new book by David Brooks, asks: “Who are we? We are like spiritual Grand Central Stations. We are junctures where millions of sensations, emotions and signals interpenetrate every second. We are communications centers, and through some process we are not close to understanding, we have the ability to partially govern this traffic …We become fully ourselves only through the ever-richening interplay of our networks.”

Influences on Choice

Rodin’s thinker represents humanity. We consider ourselves thinking individuals separated from other animals by the power of reason. Choices are a big part of the reasoning we accomplish  each day – all day long. Brooks’ book provides some interesting features of our unconscious abilities.  He posits that our failure to cultivate moral and emotional faculties, our individual character, emotions and intuitions have huge opportunity cost.

Underneath any choice is architecture comprised of a set of structures  that defines  options. Logic consists of “if, then” sequences. For example, if we exercise often and eat well, then we’ll have good health. Your leadership can influence critical elements in choice architecture which will, ultimately, influence team and organization performance. “Priming” is one point of intervention  and “anchoring” is another.

Priming & Anchoring

Research shows that perceptions can influence people and then alters their  actions. This is priming. So, if you tell your staff to about a team that delivered results (“nimble,” innovative” and “successful”) they will perform better than they would without hearing the story. Likewise negative references oppress achievement. There is power in setting a positive tone and pointing out positive examples.

Anchoring is another helpful technique with teams. Because humans process information in context, it is important to be aware of mental patterns of relativity. Defining a commonly held understanding or “anchoring” is vital to integrated processes because it assures everyone has a shared idea of the intended goals or vision. For example, a “rich life” could be understood as holding substantial financial assets. However, some might consider it reflects good health or many intimate relationships (or both). Without an anchor or shared understanding, collective progress may be at great risk. Do you specify ideas, goals or practices in ways that ensure success? Do you intentionally minimize the potential for  multiple interpretations, assumptions and perspectives that interfere?

Other important factors that influence choices include: framing, expectations, inertia, arousal and loss aversion. They are all present and in dynamic play when working with others. These unconscious biases come to work every day.

 –Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :www.pwkinc.com

Managing Deadlines and Dodging Bullets

July 5, 2011

Contemporary management can thank the battlefield of the American Civil War for the term “deadline.” Lacking physical structures to secure prisoners, captors gathered prisoners together in a huddle. A line drawn around them in the dirt was known as the “dead line.” Anyone who strayed beyond it was shot.

Time Management

Managers set specific timing to accomplish tasks for many reasons. Deadlines, now known as a time-limit, can encourage a new urgency that ensures progress. They establish key targets that require design, planning and execution of work. This sets a pace for action when delay and avoidance are too often far easier.

I frequently tell clients capital finds good ideas; but talent and timing are most important. The pace and sequence of work against a specified schedule catalyzes, then supports, important momentum.

Decision Windows

Timing is a significant issue in managing and leading. Decision windows open and close with alarming speed. Prompt action on a set schedule builds credibility and signals priorities. Selecting opportunities in the press of limited time is a skill that comes with intention and experience. As the number of factors beyond your control grow – choices about when to release a message, hire, fire or pursue an alliance are essential to creating change.

Deadlines are vital to interdependencies and complex work that involves multiple players. Expectations associated with milestones can encourage flagging spirits. And, importantly, consequences around deadlines mean a shared focus has “teeth.”

 Discipline Means Deadlines

Often, an undisciplined use of time means a lack of discipline in other areas. For good reasons, deadlines can be adapted. However, an organization or team that avoids setting or meeting deadlines isn’t very credible. It can be symptomatic of a lack of priorities, a need to re-visit purpose or even irrelevance. We’re careful about deadlines at our office. This has sometimes meant all-night and weekend work to deliver on promises.

Manage deadlines – so they don’t manage you. They can increase the effectiveness of your team and keep you in the safety zone where you won’t get shot.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. She is also an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com


%d bloggers like this: